By Jordan Fabian - 12-15-16 13:13 PM EST
Top aides to President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday escalated their war of words over allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest hit back at senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway after she accused him of making inappropriate comments in stating that Trump encouraged Russian hacking of his political opponents.
"It is just a fact that the Republican nominee for president was encouraging Russia to hack his opponent because he believed it would help his campaign," Earnest told reporters Thursday.
"I'm not trying to be argumentative, it's not a controversial statement," he continued. "I am trying to acknowledge a basic fact. All of you saw it, it was not in dispute."
During a Thursday morning appearance on "Fox and Friends," Conway slammed Earnest for suggesting that Trump was awarebefore Election Day that Russia was behind a series of hacks on Democratic political groups.
"That is incredibly disappointing to hear from the podium of the White House press secretary because he ... essentially stated that the president-elect had knowledge of this, maybe even fanned the flames," she said.
During the campaign, Trump did encourage the Russians to reveal the contents of the private email server Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton used while secretary of State.
"I will tell you this, Russia: If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said at his last news conference on July 27. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."
Conway and her Fox News interviewers have characterized that remark as a joke.
"I don't think anybody at the White House thinks it's funny that an adversary of the United States engaged in malicious cyber-activity to destabilize our democracy," Earnest responded Thursday. "That is not a joke."
The Russian hacks of U.S. political organizations has emerged as the biggest flashpoint between the Obama and Trump teams in the aftermath of the election.
On most other issues, both sides have held their fire with the hopes of ensuring a smooth transition of power. But the hacking allegations have proven to be different.
Earnest dismissed charges from Trump's allies that the White House is among those trying to undermine his election victory by starting a review of the hacking allegations.
The White House spokesman called on Trump to tone down his rhetoric on the hacking allegations against Russia and cooperate with a congressional probe into the matter.
"It might be time not to attack the intelligence community, but actually be supportive of a thorough, transparent, nonpolitical investigation into what happened," Earnest said.